Fire kills approximately 6,000 people in the United States each year, injures an additional 300,000 people and causes hundreds of millions of dollars of property damage to homes, hotels, office buildings and other structures. This information is intended to provide the public with several helpful hints designed to decrease the risk of becoming a victim of fire.
All About Smoke Detectors
Fire is a product of combustion in which some type of fuel is heated to a flammable temperature in the presence of oxygen. Bill Cantor's book describes the process as follows:
Fuel + Heat + Oxygen = Fire
The deadliest products of combustion generated by all fires are poisonous gases. Poisonous gases are responsible for most fire deaths. In most fires, only 10% of the products of combustion are visible. In some cases there is almost no visible smoke. In other cases where the oxygen supply is limited, lots of smoke may be produced. Regardless of the amount of smoke, poisonous gas is ALWAYS present.
Most fires that kill start at night between the hour of midnight and six o'clock in the morning. This is the time when families are least prepared to deal with a fire. In almost all cases the fire starts small and may smolder for several hours, producing deadly gases before erupting into an open flame. One might never know of the danger until it is too late.
Smoke detectors are small, relatively in inexpensive items of equipment designed to sense smoke before it becomes so dense that the occupants of the home are overcome. There are two kinds of smoke detectors. The ionization smoke detector works on the principle that a very minute amount of radiation from a very weak source will increase the ability of normal air to conduct electricity. In these detectors, a small and carefully shielded bit of radioactive material "ionizes" the air in the chamber of the detector. As a result, a very weak electric current flows through the chamber and is sensed by a special circuit. When tiny particles of smoke enter the chamber, they reduce the flow of that weak current. When the flow drops below an acceptable level the circuit activates the alarm system.
The photoelectric smoke detector uses the principle of "seeing" smoke to activate the buzzer. When particles of smoke are carried into the detector by air circulation in the room, they each reflect or "scatter" light from a small lamp in the device. Some of that reflected light falls on a photoelectric cell causing it to produce a slight electric current. As the smoke increases, more current is generated activating the alarm system, which notifies the central station.
Smoke Detectors Are Helpful, but.......
Smoke detectors in homes are providing earlier warning of potentially life-threatening fire situations and have reduced life loss, injuries and property damage, according to a report released by the U.S. Fire Administration.
The most important feature of a smoke detector is the ability to connect it to your central station monitored alarm system. Cases have been documented where people asleep do not hear the siren. Only when the central station contacted the fire department and the firemen awoke the sleeping residents did they realize they were in danger. Also, by the time the smoke detector is activated, you may already be unable to help yourself due to the buildup of poisonous gases in the house. That $20 smoke detector from the home supply store may detect the smoke, but it will not summon help!
The report, An Evaluation of Residential Smoke Detectors Under Actual Field Conditions, is a part of a study conducted by the International Association of Fire Chiefs Foundation under a grant from the U.S. Fire Administration, The report evaluates data collected from 2,107 incidents attended by fire departments in 14 jurisdictions. Also includes in the report are the results of sensitivity tests conducted on more than 3,000 smoke detectors.
Fire officers investigating the incidents determined that an alarm from a smoke detector provided the first warning in 39% of all fire situations studies in the project. According to the report,: the potential for reducing serious injury or death increased to 90% when all the occupants were asleep." Investigators estimated that fire loss was reduced in approximately 35% of fire incidents because of the earlier warning provided by the detector.
Smoke detectors should be installed in an area close to the bedrooms since the primary function of the smoke detectors is to awaken people. If two sleeping areas are significantly separated, each area should have its own detector. Consideration should always be given to the likely path along which smoke would travel in your home. In single level homes, this usually means placing the first detector in the hallway outside the bedrooms. If the bedrooms are upstairs, the detector should be placed at the head of the stairs which lead to the bedroom area. The simplest rule is to place the detector between the bedroom and the rest of the house, but closer to the bedrooms.
Once you have protected your family with smoke detectors in the bedroom areas, serious consideration should be given to protect your home with a detector in the basement workshop and/or boiler area. Outside of the kitchen, this is where the most frequent and severest fires occur. Since this area is usually remote from the living areas, fires can get a good headstart.
A word of caution, smoke detectors are so sensitive that they can become a nuisance. Even the smallest amount of smoke from cooking or using a power tool can set it off. This sensitivity has caused some individuals to temporarily disconnect the power source when about to perform some task that might cause the alarm to go off. Unfortunately, some forget to restore that power. The most common cause of detector failure is the removal of its source power.
The National Fire Protection Association advises not to install smoke detectors "near windows, doors, or air registers where drafts could affect detector sensitivity."
The list below shows required locations for smoke detectors. Detectors may be wall mounted or ceiling mounted.
ONCE THE PROPER LOCATION HAS BEEN SELECTED, WHAT'S THE RIGHT POSITION FOR THE DETECTOR? Check the instructions that come with your detector. Most recommend installing smoke detectors on the ceiling or on the walls between 6 and 12 inches below the ceiling. This not only takes advantage of the fact that most smoke rises, but puts the detector safely above accidental bumps and the inquiring hands of children. There is one place NOT to put a detector. Don't place it within six inches of where the wall and ceiling meet, on either surface. This has proven to be a "dead air" space that receives little air circulation.
Some peculiarities of air flow and ceiling temperature needs to be considered in certain installations. Excessive "clean" air flow across a detector can keep smoke-filled air from reaching the smoke chamber. This can happen if the detector is mounted in front of an air supply duct outlet, or between the bedroom and the furnace cold air return. In either of these instances, relatively clean air may be "washing" the detector even when most of the air in the house is un-breathable.
Maintenance is ImportantThe best advice is to consult with a home security professional who is a MBFAA member. Your smoke detector must be maintained properly to provide you and your family with protection.
- Replace batteries according to the dealer's instructions. Battery operated units require more maintenance, as batteries must be replaced.
- Clean the grillwork of your detector.
- Have your alarm dealer test the system each year.
Smoke detectors are not expensive. High quality, efficient detectors are available at prices ranging from $99-$199. The cost of a human life saved by a smoke detector cannot be measured.
An Introduction to E.D.I.T.H.E.D.I.T.H. stands for Exit Drills In The Home. The National Fire Protection Association advises you not to wait for "smoke and fire to surprise you."
A smoke detector in working condition will usually give you ample time to evacuate the house. But remember, the best fire detection equipment can only tell you that there is a fire. The other half of your home fire safety program should be a family escape plan.
Plan what action family members will take in the event of a fire, and then practice your plan. There should be at least two escape routes from each bedroom. All family members should know all the escape routes, including the upstairs windows. Agree in advance on an outside meeting place so that you'll know if everyone has safely escaped.
If there is a need for immediate escape, don't waste time trying to fight the fireundefinedand don't stop to call the fire department from a phone in the house. Call from a neighbor's phone or from another safe location. Staying in the house to call the fire department could cost you your life.
Preparing an escape plan for your family is relatively easy.
Step1: Obtain a piece of graph paper and diagram the bedroom area of your home. Show the exterior walls with windows, all of the interior walls with doorways, stairways, and any other means of exits. If the bedrooms are on the second floor, and there is a single story roof outside a bedroom window, show that also.
Step2: Select the best emergency escape route for each bedroom. Test all windows to insure they work properly. Insure that all family members can crawl through them easily.
Step3: Draw arrows on your diagram to show the normal exits from each room. Draw arrows of a different, preferably bright color to show the emergency exits to be used if the normal exists are blocked by fire or heavy smoke.
Step4: Select a meeting place outside the home where all family member can gather and be accounted for, preferably away from the house, on the street, in the far corner of the yard, or a neighbor's lawn are ideal.
Step5: Call the fire department from outside the home. Do not call them from inside the burning building. That could cost you your life. Pre-arrange with your neighbor to use the telephone during the emergency. Be sure that all members of your family know the police/fire emergency number. When the operator answers, STAY CALM, speak slowly to avoid any mix-up information, and wait to answer any specific questions before hanging up.
Be sure that each person in your home has two escape routes. If necessary, move furniture and purchase a chain ladder for each bedroom.
Special provision must be made for the handicapped such as installing a door between bedrooms, through a closet, etc.
Don't waste time collecting clothing or valuables. Your own life is your most valuable possession. When you leave your room, check the inside surface of the door with the palm of your hand, starting at the top and moving down. If it is hot, use the emergency escape route. Don't open the door. If you think the door is safe, open it with your weight behind it so it can be closed quickly if smoke and hot air rush in.
Don't stand up - crawl.
Don't open the door without first checking it.
Don't breath deeply - take short shallow breaths.
Don't take time to gather valuables or get dressed.
Don't jump out the window in a panic. Open the top and bottom. Signal to rescuers.
Don't hide under beds or in a closet.
Don't forget your meeting place
Don't scream on the phone to the Fire Department. Talk slowly.
Don't re-enter the house. Nothing is as valuable as your own life.
DON'T FAIL TO PRACTICE.
What to do Away From Home
If you are traveling or attending a convention or meeting, this information can save the lives of your family and yourself. In most cases people do not to burn to death. Just as in house fires, they are killed by fire combustion by-products such as smoke and gases, or become victims of panic or accident. A few moments taken when you check into a hotel or motel, when entering a meeting hall, a theater or restaurant can spell the difference between life and death.
On entering a hotel/motel room, and unpacking, guests sharing the same room should check out together the nearest fire exit on the floor. Open the exit door to make sure it is operates properly and check that the stairway is clear of any obstruction. Then look for another fire exit, in another direction, and check it too. If either exit is not clear, immediately visit the Manager's office and demand that the fire exit be cleared. If this is not done, either phone the local Fire Department to report the hazard-or check out.
Count the doors on the way to the exit and note their location in the corridor, any turns and the distance from your room to emergency exits. Note the location of fire extinguishers and alarms on your floor at the same time you locate the fire exit. Remember that in case of fire, the exit light might be out, or obscured by smoke. You may have to crawl on the floor with a different view point if the hall is smoke-filled. NEVER try to use the elevator; in most cases it will have halted in the worst fire area with the door jammed open from light activated controls. In addition, the shaft acts as a flue, for the upward flow of smoke and gas. If you need to crawl past the elevator door be careful, the shaft door might be open, even if the elevator door is not there.
Occasionally there is smoke without fire, contrary to the old saying. A smoldering mattress of stuffed furniture will produce great quantities of smoke. Most burning fabrics and materials produce toxic gas.
If you discover a fire, not only phone the desk, but dial an outside line and call the local Fire Department. Then close all doors leading to the fire. Leave the building immediately.
When you go through the door, close it behind you. An open fire door will draw smoke, endangering you and others. Don't hesitate to use the fire extinguisher. Notify the front desk after you put out the fire, it might rekindle.
Fight BackIf you hear an alarm, or are called about a fire, pick up your room key. Test the door with the palm of your hand to see if it is hot. If it is, leave it closed!! If the door is hot, or if the hall is filled with smoke open your window, unless there is smoke outside. Turn off the air conditioner, fill the tub and sink with water. Use the ice bucket or a glass to wet the door and the carpet. Wet all towels, drapes, bedclothes and stuff them around the hall door and connecting doors. Close the vent fans. If they cannot be closed, stuff with a wet towel or cloth. Do not get into the tub yourself.
Phone the desk or the Fire Department with your location and whether or not you are trapped. Stay calm! If you cannot get through on the phone, hang a wet sheet out the window. Do not try to jump out unless you are on the first floor, you can be seriously or fatally injured from even a second floor jump. Stay in your room with a wet cloth over your nose and mouth. Lie on the floor if the smoke enters. Keep the door wet and wait. Most city Fire Departments can reach up to the 10th floor with ladders or baskets. Above that level they can come down from the roof to your room window or reach you from the corridor outside your room. You are probably in less danger than you think. Don't panic!!
If there is little or no smoke in the hall when you crack the door, tie a wet cloth over your face and leave immediately, taking your key with you, in the event you may have to return to your room. Depending on the smoke level, walk or crawl to the nearest fire exit or, if blocked by fire, try the alternate fire exit previously scouted.
First, try to reach the ground floor. If this route is blocked, head to the roof to await rescue. If both escape routes are blocked, return to your room and follow previous instructions. Remain calm and wait for rescue.
Fire Protection Measures For The Home and Apartment
The National Fire Protection Association lists the following measures to help prevent fire in the home or apartment.
- Careless smokers put other lives at risk. Keep large ashtrays for smokers. Before going to bed, check behind the furniture and under the cushions for dropped matches or cigarettes that can smolder undetected. Never smoke in bed- and remind others of this.
- Smoke matches and lighters above the "strike zone"- that area between the floor and adult shoulder height within the reach of children.
- Be alert to electrical hazards such as broken appliances, worn electrical cords, over loaded extension cords.
- Flammable liquids are dangerous; their vapors can ignite even at temperatures below zero. Don't store gasoline or other flammable liquids in your apartment, in other parts of the building, or in your car, or your garage.
- Use care when cooking. Wear short or tight fitting sleeves that won't brush against burners. Don't use open barbecue grills in your apartment or on the balcony or in the garage - a wayward ember could mean fire for you or your neighbor.
- Don't use balconies, porches or furnace rooms for storage where fires can start and burn undetected. These areas also offer prime targets for arsonists.
We hope you are never involved in a fire, at home or away.
But if you are, these instructions could well save your
life and that of your loved ones. Read them and heed them.
Make Fire Prevention/Protection a family habit.
Call your MBFAA Dealer for assistance!
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a combustion by-product that is produced by the incomplete combustion of a fuel. Carbon monoxide is also referred to as "CO" Do not confuse carbon monoxide with carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon dioxide is exhaled from your body every time you breathe, and it not considered a hazard.
Why is Carbon monoxide (CO) deadly to people?
When carbon monoxide is produced, it is odorless and colorless, and undetectable to the human nose. Carbon monoxide poisons people because it very effectively replaces the oxygen in the bloodstream. The tissues in the body essentially suffocate because they cannot get the needed life sustaining oxygen.